How did Cardinal Timothy Dolan first get word of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement? In part, at least, from NBC’s Matt Lauer. Since more than a few commenters in the earlier thread thought that Cardinal Dolan would make a good candidate for Benedict XVI’s successor, his appearance this morning on Today is worth watching for both his reaction and the more detailed explanation of what follows.  Dolan, in his self-deprecatingly humorous manner, explains the challenge he faces as he attends his first conclave for the election of a new Pope, and the daunting responsibility of that task:

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Dolan explains what his colleagues in the College of Cardinals will want in the next Pope: strong theological grounding, leadership qualities, and humility.  Dolan praises the humility shown by Benedict XVI by choosing retirement so that the Catholic Church can move smoothly to his successor, which “makes me love the guy even more.”

That process will include the period called sede vacante, which means “empty chair,” a period without a Pope that allows the cardinals to meditate on the needs of the Church and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom in the election of a new pontiff.  Wikipedia has a good explanation of what this means administratively:

According to Universi Dominici Gregis, the government of the Holy Seesede vacante (and therefore of the Catholic Church) falls to the College of Cardinals, but in a very limited capacity. At the same time, all of the heads of the Roman Curia resign their offices. The exceptions are the Cardinal Camerlengo, who is charged with managing the property of the Holy See, and the Major Penitentiary, who continues to exercise his normal role. If either has to do something which normally requires the assent of the Pope, he has to submit it to the College of Cardinals. Papal legates continue to exercise their diplomatic roles overseas, and the Vicar General of Rome continues to exercise his pastoral role over the diocese of Rome during this period. The postal administration of the Vatican City State prepares and issues special postage stamps for use during this particular period, known as “sede vacante stamps”.

The coat of arms of the Holy See also changes during this period. Instead of the papal tiara over the keys, the tiara is replaced with the umbraculum or ombrellino in Italian. This symbolizes both the lack of a Pope and also the governance of the Camerlengo over the temporalities of the Holy See. As further indication, the Camerlengo ornaments his arms with this symbol during this period, which he subsequently removes once a pope is elected. The arms of the Camerlengo appear on commemorative euro coins minted during this period, which are legal tender in all Eurozone member states.

The interregnum is usually highlighted by the funeral Mass of the deceased pope, the general congregations of the college of cardinals for determining the particulars of the election, and finally culminated in the conclave to elect a successor. Once a new pope has been elected (and ordained bishop if necessary) the sedes is no longer vacant, so this period then officially ends. Afterward occurs the Papal Installation or Papal Coronation, depending on the form of inauguration and investiture a new pope chooses, and the formal possession of the cathedra of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

If you’d like a look at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano — the Basilica of St. John Lateran — here is a short slideshow of pictures I took of it while in Rome in April and May of 2011:

This is the actual seat for the Bishop of Rome, the office of the Pope.

Update: The Anchoress has a long post with her thoughts on the announcement.  Be sure to read it all — she’s providing a lot of updates, too, with other reactions — but this was especially thoughtful:

Listening to some of the inanities coming out of the mouths of cable news anchors, and noting the way they are quickly, predictably, focusing on the “negative narratives” — one voice on cable anchor is making it sound like the church has just endured 32 years of misery and she imagines “great joy” among “progressive” Catholics and “confusion” among “conservative” ones — how grateful I am that, thanks to Benedict’s awareness, there is a hardy and energetic internet presence, well-established and looked upon with encouragement by Rome (and increasingly entered into and brilliantly utilized by smart bishopspriestsreligious and layfolk). Thanks to that, we’ll explore this very new ground, together, with our diverse points of view laid out and hashed out, all while trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding what that occurs, as has been true since Pentecost. Benedict has done a great deal to help unite Christians, even while his own church has been roiled; and he has throughout much of his pontificate been an obedient Peter, led where he would perhaps rather not go. …

Perhaps Benedict’s retirement is meant to remind this exceedingly busy world — the non-stop, twenty-four-hour-live and very self-important world — that we are none of us indispensable; that there comes a time to step back, throw oneself into the arms of the Lord and trust that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Yes, I am sad. I have loved Benedict XVI; he has been my favorite pope — I loved John Paul, of course, but as I have said before, he was a grand, dramatic pipe organ of a man; he belonged to the whole world and his writings are often so dense I cannot plumb them. Benedict has always been the more accessible tinkling piano, simply inviting one to come closer. His copious writings have been almost avuncular in their gently-voiced but brilliant instruction, and somehow it always felt like he belonged “to me”. I will miss him terribly.

I expect that Benedict XVI’s retirement/resignation may drive some to reread his work (or read it for the first time), and that his public and historical stature will increase as a result.